Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

J.K. Rowling returns to her wizarding world with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and easily recaptures the magic (ugh….I know) with director David Yates.

Following the arrival of Newt Scamander, a British wizard who is in the good graces of Dumbledore, to New York City, he carries a case full of magical creatures with a specific purpose of releasing one of them back in its homeland of Arizona. The magical community of the United States is in a bit of disarray upon Newt’s arrival, with many incidents threatening to expose their world to the “no-maj’s” of their existence. Added to this, the dark wizard Grindelwald has been rumored to have come to America, further putting MACUSA on edge. Newt’s interaction with a no-maj, Jacob, gets him brought in by an ex-auror, Tina, for violating a number of MACUSA violations and the adventure unfolds form there.

Fantastic Beasts does not feel like a Harry Potter movie, and I mean that in the best way possible. In fact, I think the movie will only improve on future viewings as you can further disconnect it from the adored Harry Potter saga. Yes, it is the same world, yes, we are going to see some characters from Harry Potter’s life eventually, but this new entry into the wizarding world is an entirely different beast (ugh….again!). This feels more like an adventure tale wrapped around an introduction to this time frame of the wizarding world, 60+ years before Harry Potter OG, all seen through the worldview of the awkward, brilliant and kind Newt Scamander. The guy is a scientist in the world of magic, trying to understand his world better and discover the value in the world’s magical creatures which are so often disregarded and slaughtered. Eddie Redmayne is excellent as Scamander and I look forward to watching him run around catching creatures for another film or two. He is charming without ever putting himself out there, is powerful without ever really showing a fire in him, and I just loved the way he opens up whenever he interacts with a beast. It is a great, understated performance, from an actor I don’t always enjoy.

Rowling wrote the script for the film and she doesn’t hold back at undermining the United States, in a way that is even more relevant in a post-Trump world. The allegory isn’t in your face, but the militaristic, fear of the other, unwelcoming dickishness of MACUSA couldn’t be more clear of a judgement in the way the United States can be not so friendly to outsiders. Yes, the wizards of the U.S. are a minority themselves, but they have adopted many of the similar traits of their no-maj counterparts. Colin Farrell is the face of the MACUSA’s dark side (the only side we really see), Graves, and he is an excellent threat roaming around the edges until he is thrust into the middle of all of this. He’s colluding with a supposed witch hater, Credence (Ezra Miller), searching for a certain young child in the city for unknown purposes. Miller’s character is a part of a lot of the film’s later developments, and he delivers some genuinely messed up stuff that will creep you out. The final battle in particular is beautifully put together with a mix wand battling and straight up fighting for your life, with Yates and company doing a great job of finding the tension and thrills you want in a battle, especially against, essentially, a cloud of smoke.

Katherine Waterston stars as Tina, and along with Jacob (Dan Fogler), the duo make a pair of fine companions for Newt’s adventures across NYC. Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), also plays a role in the film, but she ultimately feels the most left out of the bunch. Her and Fogler have a wonderful chemistry though, filling the film with a number of good laughs. In fact, the film is often quite funny, with the beasts themselves providing plenty of humor throughout the film. I think you will find it impossible not to fall in love with at least one of the beasts, or four, and they are a real highlight of the film. Rowling made the most out of a story about collecting magical creatures, while successfully launching a new five film series in the process. Waterston deserves a bit more credit as well, as she was the rock of the movie, but she manages to squeeze a personality out of Tina, even if she might be a tad under written here.

I could go on with a bunch of little things that I loved in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I think you should head out to the theater yourself to enjoy this new adventure. Rowling’s imagination still pumps out a dense and large sense of wonder, while the new cast excels top to bottom under the best wizarding world director there ever ways, David Yates. If you were a fan of the Potter films, this is a no brainer, but even if those didn’t appeal to you, Fantastic Beasts might. The film is fun, fast paced and shows you the grown up side of the wizarding world in a way that Harry Potter never really did, and I can’t wait to visit this world again.

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